When Is the Best Time of Year to Land a Federal Job?


  1. You Can Apply for a Federal Job Year Round
  2. In the Meantime, Finesse Your Federal Government Resume
    1. Your Resume Should Be Longer Than Two Pages
    2. Ensure You Tailor Your Resume to Meet the Job’s Requirements
    3. Make Sure You Address Any Specific Job Requirements
    4. Adhere to Standard Federal Resume Formats
    5. Use a Logical Organizational Structure for Your Federal Resume
  3. Apply for Federal Jobs Anytime Using a Solid Federal Resume for Best Results
A Federal job offers competitive pay and benefits, as well as stability, making them highly attractive to job seekers. However, landing a federal job is no walk in the park. You’ll need a carefully formatted resume, and you may need to undergo a stringent background check. Timing is essential, as some agencies hire during specific periods rather than year-round.

If your search for a federal job isn’t yielding any results, come to YES for help. We offer customized USAJobs-style federal resumes to help you stand out from your competitors. Learn more about our resume writing services today!

You Can Apply for Federal Jobs Year-Round

The federal government has its own job website—USAJobs.gov—that you’re likely familiar with. On USAJobs, you can create a dedicated career search using the specific keywords and locations you’re interested in. If you save your search and sign up for email notifications, you’ll receive updates whenever a new job opens that fits your criteria.

You’ll likely receive regular alerts for open positions no matter what time of the year it is. However, most agencies hire at specific times, usually after Congress approves the yearly federal budget. Some agencies have a unique seasonal timeline. People interested in working for the IRS, for example, will likely see more positions available in the fall before tax season sets in.

If you don’t have your heart set on working for a specific agency but just want to “get in,” don’t worry too much about your timing. Continue to apply for jobs that you believe are a suitable fit for you, knowing that the entire process can take one to sixteen months. (The latter case would be if a security clearance were required, and yours took especially long, after a long hiring process.).

Generally, May and September are the primary hiring months. Congress typically approves the annual budget by May, opening thousands of jobs to job seekers. Similarly, hiring picks up in September as government agencies try to use all their available funds before the year ends.

If you apply for a federal job in May or September, you’ll likely have lots of competition, so standing out among peers with similar qualifications can be challenging. Additionally, if you’re looking for a mid-career or executive role, the agency may be considering internal candidates with an advantage over you.

Consider increasing your job-seeking efforts during November and December. While the job openings will likely be fewer in number, you’ll have less competition, as most job-seekers focus on the upcoming holidays and new year. They know they’re unlikely to start a new job during the last few weeks of the year, so they don’t bother applying.

 Applying in the fall will increase the chances of your resume’s landing in front of the hiring manager rather than ending up in the discard pile. The manager may short-list you for an interview if they like what they see. If you pass the screening process and background checks, you may be able to start working in the winter. If funding is not available until Congress passes the budget, you’ll be near the front of the line for an interview as soon as they can hire.

In the Meantime, Finesse Your Federal Government Resume

Most federal government jobs require a specific federal resume format to meet their application requirements. Unless you are applying to certain intelligence agencies that prefer a short, private-sector-style resume, the standard resume you use to apply for non-federal positions won’t fly. You’ll need to ensure your resume fulfills all the criteria to increase your chances of landing an interview.

 Here are a few tips to consider.

Don’t Worry if Your Resume Is Longer Than Two Pages

Federal resumes are typically three to five pages long. (Try to keep yours to five pages max, not counting references.) While sending a five-page resume to a private company will likely raise a few eyebrows (and land you in the “No, thank you” pile), that is expected in the federal government. That’s because federal jobs want you to provide far more information in your resume.

Items you’ll need to include in your federal resume:

  • U.S. citizenship or other work-eligible status
  • Whether you’re a veteran of the armed forces
  • If you have a security clearance
  • Number of hours worked weekly in current and prior roles
  • Addresses of your previous employers
  • Names and contact details of prior managers
  • Specific duties, skills and knowledge used, and accomplishments for each position you held
  • GPA in college or high school
  • Number of semester hours taken in upper education (sometimes)
  • Volunteer experience (optional but helpful if it meets requirements for the job—Be sure to put the dates and number of hours per week.)

As you can see, a federal government resume requires a lot of information that doesn’t typically appear on a standard private company application, so the extended length makes sense. If you’re unsure whether you’re including all the required information, do a quick Google search for federal resume examples to see what they look like or use the USAJobs resume builder. (This helps with format but not content, of course.)

Tailor Your Resume to Meet the Job’s Requirements

Uploading your resume to the USAJOBS system and sharing it with any new job opening that fits your targeted search isn’t likely to bring you the results you’re looking for. Every government agency has a different focus, and that may impact what an agency is looking for in a new hire.

For instance, the USDA concentrates on food, agriculture, and nutrition, while the U.S. Mint prints coins and oversees their circulation. While you may find jobs in both agencies that align well with your prior experience, hiring managers will prefer candidates who can offer the expertise that fits their agency’s function. In this example, a candidate with farming or nursing experience would seem like a better fit for USDA, while a candidate with banking or accounting experience would have an advantage with the Mint.

Carefully read each job description and identify areas where your resume doesn’t meet the requirements. For instance, perhaps the job description is for a software engineer with COBOL coding experience, which you have but don’t include in your resume. Adding your COBOL programming skills will increase your resume’s relevance to the job opening.

Tailoring your resume is especially important if you find your federal government dream job. You don’t want to risk losing out on the opportunity, so carefully review and modify your resume to align precisely with the job’s requirements.

Of course, don’t add any skills or experience that you don’t have just to increase your chances of an interview. Trust us—they’ll find out.

Address Any Specific Job Requirements

Most federal jobs have specific requirements that a candidate must meet to be considered. For instance, an accounting role may expect the applicant to have a certain number of semester hours in specific courses, like cost accounting or auditing. If you apply for the position, list each university class you took that meets the criteria.

Include in your federal resume any key terms you note in the job announcement. Usually, key phrases will appear several times throughout the role’s description. Incorporating those words will emphasize the relevance of your work experience to the target position.

If you have experience unrelated to the job you’re applying for, you may want to leave it out unless you need to account for a gap. (Federal resumes must account for all periods exceeding six months in length.) For instance, if you worked as a part-time grocery store clerk through college, but you graduated with an engineering degree, your cashier experience isn’t likely to give you a boost in the application process. (And those dates are covered by full-time schooling anyway.)

Adhere to Standard Federal Resume Formats

Federal agencies want a clear, easy-to-follow, black-and-white resume that provides the information they need to shortlist qualified candidates. Federal resumes are lengthy and full of detail about knowledge and skills used, as well as accomplishments. They do not include graphics or images that can confuse the screening system used to assess candidates.

Treat your federal resume as a formal document that responds to the open role’s requirements and responsibilities. You should avoid using templates that place components of your resume in columns that appear on the right or left side. Instead, your resume should follow a top-to-bottom organizational style.

If you’re unsure whether you’re using the proper template, look at a few federal resume examples. You’ll likely find that text size remains the same and no images or special callouts detract from the resume’s content.

Use a Logical Organizational Structure for Your Federal Resume

You should carefully organize your federal resume and include various sections allowing the hiring manager to understand what you can offer in the position.

Start your resume with your contact information, what gives you the right to work (U.S. citizenship or other status), veterans’ preference, and security clearance, if any. Next, include a summary of your skills and experience and any stand-out qualifications necessary for the role.

Your work experience should follow your summary information. List each job you have held in reverse chronological order so your current or most recent role appears at the top. Remember that hiring managers for most federal government positions do not want to see your entire career history, just the past ten years. (Older military experience is worth mentioning too.)

You should tailor your work history to highlight the most relevant positions and experience. This may mean that some of your roles have only a few bullet points. That’s okay, especially if the work doesn’t relate to the job you’re applying for.

Following your work history, you should list your education, certifications, and specific skills, such as experience with various software packages.

If you’re applying for a federal job but have only private sector experience, avoid using any acronyms the hiring manager may be unfamiliar with. Instead, spell them out so those who read your resume will understand what you mean.

Apply for Federal Jobs at Any Time, but Have a Solid Resume for Best Results

You’ll likely see a boost in federal job opportunities during specific months of the year, like May and September. However, new jobs are constantly popping up, so don’t let timing impact your search. Remember, a well-written resume will increase your chances of landing an interview, so follow the standard federal resume format and be sure to include all of the required experience at the next lower grade. (If you have the required experience further back in your career history, where the salary of that job would put the experience more than one grade below the grade you are looking for, unfortunately that won’t qualify you.)

 Finding a federal job takes time and effort; some people don’t see any results because of poorly written resumes. YES resume writing services can help you put your best foot forward in your government job search. Contact us today to get started!

About the Authors

President of YES
Farrah is not a resume writer
Vice president of YES

Katherine Metres Akbar is the founder and president of YES Career Coaching & Resume Writing Services, one of Washington metro’s two top-rated career success companies. She and her team have helped over 5,000 people and organizations perfect their resumes, master networking, get interviews, receive offers for dream jobs, resettle employees through outplacement, and optimize their teams. Katherine is the world’s only Interview AikidoTM coach, a Certified Talent Optimization Consultant, Certified Professional Career Coach, and a Certified Professional Interview Coach. An award-winning writer, she previously served as a U.S. diplomat and executive director of a civil rights non-profit. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University.

Michael Akbar is the co-owner and vice president of YES Career Coaching & Resume Writing Services. He is a Certified Professional Career Coach, Certified Federal Career Coach, Certified Business Advisor, and Certified Talent Optimization Consultant helping leaders build their dream teams. Michael leverages his business development background to help coachees get their dream job, often on the hidden job market. Michael has  spent 15 years as an entrepreneur coaching business owners to break through their barriers to success. After talking his way into two jobs in order to get a work visa, Michael was inspired to create Interview AikidoTM to help people get jobs, even when they are underqualified. He holds a Bachelor of Science from McGill University and a Master of Science from the City University of London.

The home team is completed by Farah Akbar, a joyful, stubborn, and—some say—adorable terrier/pitbull mix the Akbars adopted from the shelter after a traumatic early life.

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